The best internet filter software is an essential tool for any parent. It’s designed to let your kids surf the web with a significantly reduced risk of them wandering into the darker corners of the internet. Internet filter software provides a variety of different roles, including blocking harmful websites so that your children can’t access them. They can also be used to limit and control your child’s access to various social media sites, so you can be more confident that they’re not talking to strangers and joining harmful groups.
But which is the best internet filter software? There are a lot of choices out there to be sure, and most of them broadly offer the same service, but some of the programs that we reviewed excel in some areas more than others. If you’re worried about your children’s social media presence, then you need to make sure that the program you choose covers the majority of the websites that your kids use.
Qustodio works on PCs and phones, and has 29 filter categories and time controls. The detailed parent reports include images of sites your child visits, as well chat and text messages they send and get.
You also want something that works well with the devices your child prefers - if they’re primarily on their smartphone then you need something that works well on their device. Some programs, like Kaspersky Safe Kids are lacking some functionality on iPhones, for example. We have a best cell phone parental control apps guide that specializes in this area, so check that out too.
Beyond that, you should consider the extra features that come with the best internet filter software. Some programs let you set screen time limits, so you can make sure your kids aren't spending too much time online. You can also get weekly or monthly reports from some software, giving you an overview of your kid’s online activities so you can watch for trends.
You should also make sure you have something like the best antivirus software, or even the best internet security software set up on your devices if you’re letting your kids use them - they might accidentally click on something they shouldn’t, so it pays to keep your computer safe from them, as well as keeping them safe from it.
1. Qustodio: Best Internet filter software overall
Qustodio is our top pick for internet filters in part because it is easy to install on both computers and smartphones. It’s also simple to use.
You can access each child’s profile from your phone and adjust their access and time allowances; you don’t have to be at a computer or on the device itself to adjust the settings. Qustodio has 29 filter categories to quickly and easily block websites and content children don’t need to see.
The time management controls let you control timeframes for internet access (so your child can’t get online when they are supposed to be asleep or at school), and they also let you control how long kids can stay logged on during allowed times. For example, if your kids are allowed online between 6pm and 9pm on school nights, you can set Qustodio to kick them off after an hour or two, controlling overall screen time.
Qustodio records a lot of details about what your children do online and provides a detailed report. While other programs simply tell you when your child has accessed their email account or chatted with someone through an instant messenger program, Qustodio captures the whole conversation. You can also tag words and phrases, such as "come alone" or “don’t tell your mom,” so if someone sends a message with these phrases, you will know.
2. Net Nanny: Best for monitoring your kids
Net Nanny is one of the cheapest internet filter programs we tested, but still includes the most important protection tools to block dangerous content online.
There are 18 filter categories to help you quickly restrict access to websites about pornography, drugs and alcohol, suicide and gore. The program sends an email alert if your child enables a proxy or privacy server to hide their internet searches.
One of the most unique features of Net Nanny is the profanity blocker that masks swear words on websites so your child can’t see or read them. It also prevents children from typing these words into search fields and chat messages. You can set it to change the funny words or symbols as they’re typed, or the program can completely erase the word. Net Nanny sends a notice through the parent reports when profanity was typed or blocked from being seen.
Net Nanny includes time controls to block kids from the internet when they should be asleep, at school, doing homework or chores. Because you can set up an account for each child, older children can be given longer time limits for school projects, online games or streaming videos. The biggest drawback of Net Nanny is that some important tools, such as social media monitoring, chat message capturing and text notifications for parents, require you to purchase a separate program that works alongside the Net Nanny internet filter program.
3. Kaspersky Safe Kids 2021: Best value internet filter app
While Internet filtering isn't something you should cut corners with, we appreciate that services vary wildly when it comes to price. Kaspersky Safe Kids is the lowest cost provider that we recommend, as it packs in the essential features and offers very detailed reports, but doesn't cost the earth. In terms of social media monitoring, it covers the big providers like Facebook and YouTube, and it'll happily track your family's usage across all the major iOS and Android devices. You get a very generous 500 devices per license, so you won't run out of these any time soon.
Kaspersky Safe Kids has many of the standard tracking tools too, like geo-tracking alerts for when your kids leave a certain safe zone, or they visit an area you've designed as 'off limits'. Handily, it'll also alert you when their phones are switched off or they run out of battery, including a last known location.
The downside is that some of the major social media platforms are not covered by this software, like Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat. It also lacks for some features on iOS that come as standard on Android and PC, so if your family exclusively uses Apple products, you may want to consider something like Net Nanny instead.
4. Surfie: Great for cell phones
Surfie is compatible with both Android and iOS cellphones and tablets, plus it has a Windows computer version. All versions let you filter and block web content you don’t want your children exposed to.
It comes with 18 filter categories that make it easy to block related websites under each category, including pornography, violence and online gaming. But you can also whitelist sites that you are okay with your child visiting, even if they fall under a filter category, or blacklist specific pages that don’t fall under a watched group. On top of web filters, Surfie lets you control when your child has internet access and how long they can be online, even on cellphones.
One of the best features of Surfie is its keyword monitor that alerts you if someone sends your child a test, email or instant message with words or phrases that tend to be red flags. These include several programmed phrases such as “don’t tell,” “are you home alone?” and “give me your phone number.” But you can also add your own keywords, and Surfie will shut down the program your child is using and internet access when one of them is used. It also works in reverse to monitor what your child sends, prohibiting them from using your tagged keyword and from sharing personal information online. All email, instant messages and text transcripts are recorded for you to read.
5. Bark: Best for detecting hidden threats
If social media is your biggest concern (and we suspect it is for most), then you have two great options. Net Nanny is good, and Bark also has a great range of features for keeping tabs on your kids across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. What's more, its monitoring tools work across messaging platforms too, like FB Messenger, WhatsApp, and Skype. It's perfect for keeping track of the conversations your kids are having, and with who.
It not only monitors the obvious trigger words, but also has an AI-powered learning system that detects upcoming threats and topics that kids shouldn't be exposed to. It also monitors behavior patterns, to prevent your kids from slipping too deep down rabbit holes, which is a brilliant feature in the current social media climate.
There are loads of other features like alerts, weekly reports, and the ability to prevent certain new apps from being downloaded to phones. The downsides are that it is expensive, and Bark isn't the best at deciding what's important and what isn't, so you'll find yourself with a lot of alerts to check through.
6. ContentBarrier: Best for Mac users
For Mac computers we highly recommend ContentBarrier by Intego. This internet filtering software is specifically designed for Mac computers and includes preset filter categories that make it easier to block harmful content.
You can add specific websites you want to block to the blacklist, or you can add a site blocked by the preset filters to the ContentBarrier whitelist if you feel it’s OK for your child to visit. ContentBarrier X9 also has time controls so you can ensure your kids are focused on homework, chores or bedtime instead of playing online. You can create separate accounts for each of your children with one program and set different filters for each depending on their age and maturity. The program does a good job blocking content, but it doesn’t record a lot of your child’s online activity for you to see later. It also is only compatible with Mac desktops and won’t work on iPhones, iPads or other Apple mobile devices.
Why trust us on website blockers?
We are parents and know the importance of protecting children from online misinformation, dangerous content, cyberbullies, and too much screen time. Over the last 15 years we have tested and reviewed parental control software that offer great tools that lets parents to know what their kids are up to online.
As part of our research, we subscribe to news outlets and security bloggers that focus on internet security, online privacy and parental control, so we stay on top of the dangers lurking online and changes in the industry. We are interested in how well the tools of these programs help parents keep children safe online, and we enjoy the opportunity to thoroughly test these programs so we can give you good – and safe – internet filter options.
What to look for in internet filter software
Website blocking and filtering
When we tested internet filter software, we looked at exactly what each program blocked. This included the number of filter categories, if websites slipped through the cracks and if the program included a blacklist where we could add specific site URLs to block. Other programs have tools, such as screenshots and social media blocking, that can be used for similar purposes, but these require you to be more proactive for it to be effective.
Activity recording and parent notification
It seemed to us that anything a program recorded would also be reported to the parents, but we found this isn’t necessarily the case. Some programs only report the date and URL of a site a child visited by our children but don’t record more information than that. The best programs, including Qustodio, record and report in-depth information about how long your children are on specific websites, both sides of chat messages and words they search for in search engines. You can also see if your kids attempted to go to a blocked site and which activated filter category restricted their access to it. Some programs take screenshots while your child is online so you physically see what they saw during their computer time.
Notification is just as important as reading activity reports. We appreciated when a program, such as McAfee, sent us a text message as soon as our children attempted to access a restricted site. Other programs, such as Surfie, sent us email notices when our kids typed tagged words, such as “alcohol” or “home alone,” into search engines or in chat messages. Being notified quickly is important for stepping in and stopping your children from getting into a dangerous situation.